It seems the last few weeks have been an endless round of user testing. REMAP-CAP and TTM2 and TAME – all three trials have been through user testing at the same time. To be honest it’s been a testing month of user testing!

User testing takes patience and attention to detail. It’s time consuming and when it works well it finds all the little bits that make the difference between an OK piece of software and an excellent user experience. Given how important user experience is to us you can imagine how much weight we place on user testing.Here at Spiral Audrey does the first phase of user testing and manages the testing cycle with the client and users. At times like this it is 60-70% of her job. The concept of user testing is pretty easy really:

  1. Users raise an issue
  2. Audrey looks at it and does some research
  3. The development team make the change
  4. The dev team unit tests the change
  5. Audrey system tests the change
  6. Then its released

One small difficulty is that we are user testing with people who are often not the actual end user, plus there is no way of knowing exactly how each user is going to interact with the software, or how they expect the software to function.

We follow all sorts of blogs and latest thinking around user testing. We do all this thinking and try to find the best options for the users. However, the trick in user testing is finding a balance. Each individual wants something different yet we have to find a way that is most beneficial to everyone. Although trying to do everything asked is a recipe for chaos. There is also the risk that one person will be very vocal about what they want while others keep their opinions to themselves. And who’s to say that a user knows what they want before they begin using the software, with real data, in their real environment.

For us it’s very much about watching people, listening, and seeing how people use Spinnaker; rather than changing the software to suit everyone. By using the Agile approach to all our projects, we can roll with what we’ve got, and make improvements along the way. We do not need to wait for perfection before user testing (or launch). Good enough is all that is required to get user testing underway. There can be all sorts of reasons to get underway, not the least is having something to use and work with, rather than get stuck in an endless cycle of testing.

What you don’t know you don’t know
Even the process of getting the new software underway helps us identify areas for tweaks and adjustment. When you have a flexible software platform like Spinnaker, and an Agile approach to development, then getting it launched, and enrolments started, can be a valuable part of the user testing. Once we are underway things change and these may be changes that could not have been foreseen or expected. Research coordinators use Spinnaker in unexpected ways, patients come in with unexpected readings and situations arise that we could never have prepared for. We deal with these unexpected situations by getting underway, with being flexible and being clever enough to adapt.

And of course there are always new tools to help with the user testing phase. Our current projects are using a new tool called Usersnap. Usersnap takes a photograph of the user’s screen and they can make comments about what they want changed. It’s a huge improvement on earlier tools and gives us better insights into the environment the testers are using including their computer, browser and screen size. We get to see exactly what they see when they are testing.

So maybe a new perspective in user testing is worth some consideration. We see it more in the light of providing increased user engagement, more user observation and in gaining valuable feedback for this and future versions of Spinnaker.

Remember, we are always listening (in a good way!).